- Introduction to the Issue
- Nietzsche was a DJ
- DJ Spooky Interview
- Common Sounds
- inter.Virtual.Vitalism. views: Aural Encounters
- How Music Speaks: In the Background, In the Remix, In the City
- Writing Without Sound: Language Politics in Closed Captioning
- 'Digimortal': Sound in a World of Posthumanity
- Thinking Across the Neck: Playing Slide with Fret/work Blues
- An Autoethnography of Sound: Local Music Culture in Colorado
- Inquiry as Telos
- A New Composition, a 21st Century Pedagogy, and the Rhetoric of Music
- Remixing the Personal Narrative Essay: “The Hardest and the Best Thing I Have Ever Done”
- Auralacy: From Plato to Podcasting and Back, Again
- Digital Lyrical
- Contributors' Notes
An Autoethnography of Sound: Local Music Culture in Colorado
In The Rhetoric of Cool, Jeff Rice notices that "rhetoric and rhetorical invention emerge out of a number of influences: art, film, literature, music, record covers, cultural studies, imagery, technology, and, of course, writing” (10). Considerations of music in the field of rhetoric and composition have primarily dealt with classroom pedagogy and invention. In “Never Mind the Tagmemics, Where’s The Sex Pistols,” Geoffrey Sirc uses “a cultural parallelism—popular music and composition theory” (974) to complicate the history of rhetoric and composition in order to come to understand why, through disciplinary attempts at “righting writing…(it) could no longer be, it had to be a certain way” (975). However, most research having to do with music and composition studies seeks a classroom application of music for inventive purposes.
In a response to Sirc’s article, Seth Kahn-Egan looks to use punk rock as a pedagogical tool in order to inspire resistance to dominant discourses, as does writing teacher Optimum One, who is interested in bringing the countercultural elements of punk “to bear on new and timid writers” (358). In “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine,” Rice identifies a “hip-hop pedagogy” (453) which uses the study of hip-hop digital sampling methods in order to teach juxtaposition techniques to students of the argumentive essay. In this way, Rice hopes that students can “spark the resistance” (469) against the consumerism of pop culture and challenge dominant discourses while simultaneously engaging with them.
While we have seen music being used in the classroom as topoi, there are fewer studies which use the kind of rhetorical theory particular to composition to complicate the actual lived music experience of musicians. However, Thomas Rickert and Byron Hawk do provide a theoretical “ground” from which to begin such a study. In the 1999 “Writing/Music/Culture” issue of Enculturation, Rickert and Hawk, in their article “Avowing the Unavowable: On the Music of Composition,” say that "Music is neither composer nor composed; rather, it is a sound-image that composes-creates compositions, assemblages, links. Music composes us when we listen to it and when we write about it” (“Avowing the Unavowable”). This idea positions music as a cultural force which composes individuals as opposed to the Romantic understanding of music as an art form composed by autonomously creating individuals.
Studies of music often reveal deeply imbedded notions of Romanticism. Characteristics of the “high cultural movement” (Stratton 149) of eighteenth and nineteenth century Romanticism include “The idea of genius, cosmic self-assertion, the social alienation of the literary man, (and) the ideal of self-expression” (Grana 67, as quoted by Stratton 149). Music and musicians are often associated with these Romantic characteristics. In A Common Sense View of All Music, sociologist John Blackling says, “Music is essentially about aesthetic experiences and the creative expression of individual human beings in community, about the sharing of feelings and ideas” (146). Cultural musicologist Simon Firth relates a similar awareness of the Romantic understanding that “Good music is the authentic expression of something—a person, an idea, a feeling, a shared experience” (“Towards an Aesthetic” 35), and that “From the fans’ perspective it is obvious that people play the music they do because it ‘sounds good’” (34).
For the musician such a chimerical vision of individual expression comes at a price. Literary/music critic Jacques Atalli refers to the musician as the “sacrificed sacrificer” (30), at once savior and voice of a regimented and stale social existence yet also relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy. This “starving artist” role becomes reified in part through the rhetoric which surrounds musicians. The focus of the present study is to examine such Romantic-based expressionist (or expressivist) rhetoric from the perspective of individuals involved in local Northern Colorado music culture and through the autoethnographic inquiry of the researcher in order to extend the idea of the “sound-image that composes” to the ways that music composes the musicians themselves.
This goal of this study is to draw out the complexities of music careers as expressed through the rhetoric of seven interview participants who work in the local Northern Colorado music community, as well as through my own autoethnographic performative narrations which emerge throughout the text. Autoethnography blurs the line between self and Other by using “self-conscious reflexivity, dialogue, and multiple voices” (Ellis and Bochner 29). My goal is to come closer to understanding how the sound-image composes the musician by allowing my own subjectivity and complete membership in the Northern Colorado music community to both color and drive an analysis of the rhetoric of four local musicians, one musician employer, and two musician advocates.
Analyzing these individuals’ rhetoric through James Berlin’s ideologies of expressionism and social epistemicism provides a unique composition-based theoretical lens for viewing the local level professional music career. For Berlin, the ideology of expressionism (expressivism) is based on the Romantic ideal of “Authentic self-expression” (674) which liberates “students from the shackles of a corrupt society” (675). A social-epistemic ideology, on the other hand, is based on the idea of a socially constructed world where reality is “a political act involving a dialectical interaction engaging the material, the social, and the individual writer, with language as the agency of mediation” (678). According to Alan France, “Writing students are frequently taught the composing process with respect to a range of rhetorical positions which extends from a dominant self-expressivism to variants of social constructionism based on poststructural theories of reading and text” (593). This rhetoric based pedagogy is being applied outside of the classroom here in order to research the "the way culture comes in to write this ungraspable excess, music, and by extension those who…live in it” (Rickert and Hawk, “Avowing the Unavowable”).
As part of my Master’s thesis research, I analyzed the rhetoric of participants in local music culture in an attempt to come closer to locating the ideologies they operate from and within. In order to identify these ideologies in the interview subjects, I asked them questions about the career of music, such as: do musicians perform for self expression, money, or both? What can musicians do in order to take their career more seriously, and how can they ensure that others take them seriously? In what ways can musicians be taken advantage of in the local music business? How can musicians be more in control of their artistic and economic destinies?
The resulting thematic analysis allowed me to interpret the interview data qualitatively and place it along the expressivism/social constructionism continuum, an analytic tool which was used to place musician rhetoric culled from interviews and categorized through constant comparative analysis. At one end of the continuum were expressivist themes such as music is for self-expression and musicians are starving artists. At the other end were social epistemic themes such as musicians should fulfill audience expectations and musicians are pieces of an industry. The middle of the continuum contained “middle ground” themes, such as musicians seek recognition and musicians as ideal community, which were more difficult to label as “purely” expressivist or social epistemic.
While none of the themes on the continuum were able to unproblematically account for the entire range of the participants’ experiences, some did come closer than others to providing tangible concepts to “conceptualize, describe, and explain the experiences” (Silverman, as quoted by DiRamio et al, 80) of the interview participants. However, for the current inquiry, I will concentrate on one of the more ambiguous “middle ground” themes from the continuum, identity. From the outset of my thesis research, the theme of identity proved to be rather rhetorically ambiguous and contained significant contradictions. For instance, Ft. Collins indie rock musician Basil’s comment on the local music scene, that, “we don’t like what’s happening here and we’re trying to make it weird,” displays an awareness of the socially constructed aesthetic politics of the Ft. Collins music scene, but also an element of supra-individuality, or an “us-against-the-world” type of group autonomy.
Bill, who owns and books the bands at a famous Boulder music institution, says that being a musician “takes a lot of guts and dedication.” I coded this as socially epistemic because it does represent the resilience that many successful musicians display, although Bill’s quote could be coded as expressivist rhetoric when we consider that it was provided by an owner of a music venue, a business which requires live musicians, individuals who “love what they do,” as Bill says, to remain in operation. Bill is correct in acknowledging that music production at the local level is essentially a self-managed activity which requires hard work, and without the will to go on stage and perform in front of others, a career in music will prove to be difficult; however, Bill seems to place the value of being a musician on the high amount of self-worth, not economic compensation, a musician might gain from local level music production. I certainly was not thinking about money at some of my first professional performances years ago.
I was eighteen and the pressure was building in my chest. Walking through Tom Lee Park on the way to play my first gig with the Reba Russell Band at the 1997 Memphis in May Music Festival, I was nervous—Am I dressed right? Do I look cool? Will that Marshall half stack sound good with my Gibson 335? Will the audience like me? DO I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING? I had spent the last six years preparing for this moment, sitting in my bedroom playing along with Wes Montgomery and Albert Collins CDs. I did this for fun. It made me happy to try to figure out how my guitar heroes made the sounds they did. But now, I had to try to do what they did, but in front of actual people! There I was—standing backstage trying to not let anyone know that my legs were about to give way.
Ft. Collins booking agent/folk rock musician Neil says that “some people are made for it and some aren’t.” This quote from Neil was placed in the identity category because it represents the determinism that is a large factor in maintaining a professional music career; however, it could also be taken as expressivist in that it places the individual as the sole determiner of success. While it was quite possibly an honest answer to my question of “what can a musician do in order to be taken more seriously,” it also alludes to “an ideology based on radical individualism” (Berlin 682). This rhetoric of dedication is often embraced by musicians. Mac, bassist in a popular touring Denver rock/rhythm and blues group, says, “I’m going to be a working musician the rest of my life.” And according to Kate, a Denver based blues band leader, music is “a way of life I can’t live without.” As a local musician, I identify with Mac and Kate’s positions.
Music has a way of sticking to me. I think about it every waking hour and I usually dream about it. I’m often tapping on a desk or moving my legs to a rhythm. I am so used to hanging a guitar over my shoulder or holding one on my lap that when I do, I instantly breathe easier. It’s a relief to play music, and at the same time it’s stimulating to know that people are going to hear and see me play. For a long time I rejected the idea that music was a communal activity. For me, music was personal, and the thought of others interfering on the personal relationship I had with my music made me reject the audience. As I’ve gotten more experienced I’ve learned to appreciate the audience more.
I still get nervous being onstage sometimes but usually I feel pretty good and it doesn’t feel like work, as long as I’m actually in the act of playing and performing. But even then it feels like work at times. Besides the constant hustling for gigs, the often emotional personnel issues, the travel, and the low pay, part of the work of being a musician is tied to what Ft. Collins bassist Mac says—“when I hit the stage I have to focus on my parts as a musician and be in entertainment mode” even though “I may be bickering with on one of the guys I work with or I may have just gotten off the phone with my wife concerning everyday issues.” For me, it’s times like these when I cannot just let go and be myself, or be a “musician.”
As Esther, a Boulder musician advocate and local trumpet player says, “people get so tied up in their music emotionally that they can’t take a step back and look at the big picture.” Since they love what they do, it often feels antithetical for musicians to take their music too seriously. The personal relationship musicians have with the aural art form is often so precious to them that their main objective is to not do anything which might harm that relationship. Part of that love for music is that music is perceived as being separate from the market. We take normal jobs to make money, and we play music to maintain an identity away from those jobs. Berlin says that “For some, this may lead to the pursuit of self-expression in intellectual or aesthetic pursuits” (677).
In cases like this, that love and desire for musical self-expression can be “easily co-opted by the very capitalist forces it opposes” (Berlin 677). In fact, expressivist belief systems might be said to serve venue owners and advocates while social epistemic ideology might be said to better serve musicians who can be made aware of the degree to which widely held ideas about art and artists can be used to manage and control them. Expressivism might be said to cultivate aspiration AND acceptance of low rewards among musicians. This ideology has been handed down to us through the larger music industry, with its emphasis on individuality and self-expression. While Berlin was referring to the rhetoric of the writing classroom, I believe that his focus on ideology makes his claims applicable to wider social, economic, and political milieus, of which music is one.
Ideology “determines what is real and what is illusory, and, most importantly what is experienced and what remains outside the field of phenomenonological experience, regardless of its actual material existence” (Berlin 669). This way of understanding has not been lost on musicologist Simon Firth, who believes that “capitalist control of popular music rests not on record company control of recording technology but on its recurring appropriation of fans’ and musicians’ ideology of art” (“Performing Rites” 278). Club owner Bill’s statement that, “it takes a lot of guts and dedication,” may be seen as an example of Berlin’s co-option, yet as was discussed earlier, it also rings true in certain contexts. Statements such as these can be interpreted as rhetorical and meant to persuade, identity, and/or connect, although, according to Berlin, “A rhetoric can never be innocent, can never be a disinterested arbiter of the ideological claims of others because it is always already serving certain ideological claims” (Berlin 667).
Musician advocate Esther’s claim that “people get so tied up in their music emotionally that they can’t take a step back and look at the big picture” harmonizes with Berlin’s acknowledgement of a non-innocent rhetoric. Whether or not an individual believes what he or she says or does is “true,” it will, regardless, have a rhetorical effect in light of other social factors and ways of knowing. Although it entails looking at music as something that is detached from oneself, an awareness of the ways in which music identities are socially constructed can be beneficial for further creative and professional musical activity. Berlin says that in social epistemic rhetoric, “the real is located in a relationship that involves the dialectical interaction of the observer “and” the discourse community (social group) in which the observer is functioning” (678), so in considering how musical identities are constructed, we should look at how audience functions in local level music production.
For Sherrie Gradin, one does not have to be entirely focused on the audience. She supports Donald Murray’s view of expressivism in this case because it “acknowledges the rhetorical importance of audience as well as encourages a focus on the self” (104). Esther says that being a musician involves “figuring out what you’re doing with your music and what kind of band you’re going to be.” We might view this awareness of the “individual in society” as a kind of invention which can be used as a heuristic for how to proceed though one’s music career. Another way we might visualize this awareness is through an application of H. Stith Bennett’s concept of an “autotelic state of consciousness,” which “places subjective human experiences at the center of objective cultural processes” (16) to the often contradictory theme of identity may be beneficial here. And we can apply this autotelic consciousness to the way subjectivity and objectivity work with and against each other in the local music atmosphere. Expressivism is often a “required” rhetorical position for inclusion into socially accepted musician roles, but the expressivist ideology can blind musicians to the socially constructed nature of the business.
Since, as we have seen, the role of the musician has become concretized through reified notions of the Romantic “individual,” musicians may encounter a paradoxical situation whereby he or she needs to embrace expressivist rhetorics, in language and/or musical choices, in order to fit into a socially constructed world. Basil’s autotelic drive to play music fits into today’s social expectations because music is such a huge part of our lives, and it has been proven to produce capital. This may explain Basil’s statement that his music is “a viable form of expression.” In this way, expressivism is something audiences, musical and “rhetorical,” may expect from a musician. And such an expectation is often part and parcel of how the larger music industry operates when recruiting new talent.
It can be said the music industry is based on the “theoretical assumption that the locus of extra-musical meaning is in the musical object itself” (DeNora 85). If we look to a recent issue of Rolling Stone, that much revered media source, we can see how this happens. Given that Roland Barthes says “Music, by natural bent, is that which at once receives an adjective” (179), let’s give a few adjectives the rhetorical analysis treatment. In the March 3, 2011 issue we read that that on the new R.E.M album, Michael Stipe “isn’t as emotionally expressive as he was” (70) on past albums. The Low Anthem “plays despairing songs at cripple-spirit speed,” and Amos Lee is an “evanescent soul man” (74). So when Bill the club owner talks about music fans as “human types that need that musical experience,” or when he says that musicians “have to love what they do,” or when Basil, the indie-rock entrepreneur, speaks of “uninhibited, uncommercial youth expression,” one has to wonder whether these are the “voices” of uncorrupted individuals speaking, or familiar rhetorical positions that make music industry executives’ mouths water. Just because we play on the local scene, and might not ever even see a music industry executive, doesn’t mean that the wider industry does not affect us, and that our ideologies do not feed capitalist interest.
In this way, musicians who regularly buy into expressivist rhetorical positions are prevented from fully noticing the co-option of those positions by capitalist interests in positions of power. This is unfortunate when we consider the incomparable intelligence musicians often have—an acumen which enables musicians to draw meaning from the non-discursive, non-rational types of knowledge gained through a lifetime of learning and performing music; as well as the more discerning comprehension that musicians gain from dealing with clubs, agents, and audiences. That being said, several of the subjects I interviewed were aware of the way that rhetoric can be co-opted in a way that will work against musicians’ best interests. For instance, as Denver union affiliated musician advocate Reuben says, musicians will often participate in musical events for little to no pay in order to be able “to be a musician.” But many musicians expressed points of view which suggested that an awareness of the ways musicians can rhetorically disadvantage themselves is not ever-present. Much of this ambivalence has to do with the “discursive structure” which favors “one version of economic, social, and political arrangements over other versions” (Berlin 667). For example, musician/booking agent Neil asks “if you agree to play for free, are you getting ripped off?” Neil followed this astute statement with a definitive “no,” but the question still feels unanswered. Basil might attribute this to “the conundrum with being a musician,” which has to do with “if you want to make music or make money.” The music/money dichotomy is a familiar trope for those involved in the business of music.
At times, I have felt that money simply ruins the “spirit” of music. I have done my share of playing just for beer, and thinking that professional musicians were missing the whole point of playing music since they wanted to be paid for playing. But through years of both making music and making money, sometimes separately, but more often simultaneously, I have to question the music/money dichotomy. I still have the same feeling I did when I was playing for beer; that music is not about money. In many ways, of course, it is not. It’s about connecting to others through sound, enjoying life, performance, and as my old pal and keyboardist/harmonica player Nighthawk would say, making a “joyful noise.” But that doesn’t mean that we should give it away. There will always be amateur musicians who will play for free because they are excited to be able to perform in front of an audience. But for those of us who play music for a living, for those of us who really take it seriously, we should respect ourselves through the music. This may mean not playing as much as we want to, or taking a second job, or sometimes playing gigs we don’t necessarily like, but playing guitar in any capacity is not a bad job to have, in my book. I’ll play “cover band” gigs, especially if doing so enables me to have the time to work on writing, performing, and recording my original music as well.
Sociologist Stephen Groce sees disparity between audience-oriented “copy” music performers and original music performers who place more value on creativity. Groce finds that copy musicians see music more as a job than a form of expression, while original musicians’ ideology “produces a definition of themselves as artists” (406). There is much knowledge original musicians could learn from copy musicians in that copy musicians are adept at considering their audience. However, a common argument about copy musicians is that they consider the audience too much. As Boulder rock/funk guitarist John says, “you can’t let the audience control what you play,” but “it’s selfish to say ‘f--- the audience, we’re going to do what we want!”
In musical discourse, considerations of audience are sometimes interpreted as being non-authentic. As Firth argues in “Art Versus Technology,” “From Romanticism rock fans have inherited the belief that listening to someone’s music means getting to know them, getting access to their souls and sensibilities. From the folk tradition they’ve adopted the argument that musicians can represent them, articulating the immediate needs and experiences of a group or cult or commodity” (267). Musician rhetoric often points to similar perceptions of authenticity as the ones Firth describes. Bass player Mac says that “it’s hard to describe the music we play.” Mac’s “apparent inability to describe the music” (Groce 399), might be a way that musicians attempt to expressively avoid the unattractive concept of the social construction of musical genre, and the way that construction impacts musicians. But I’m with Mac— sometimes we just can’t find the right language to describe what we play.
My Memphis band, Minivan Blues Band, plays all different genres, from classic rock, blues, country, and bluegrass, to Latin jazz, pop rock, psychedelic rock, funk, and soul. We draw on the rock, blues, soul, and rockabilly roots of our native area; music from artists such as Willie Mitchell, Johnny Cash, J.B. Lenoir, B.B. King, Fred Ford, and Big Star. But we are also influenced by Miles Davis, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, The Who, and Hot Tuna. We play these artists’ music and our original music is influenced by these artists’ music. We like to play styles that get our hearts pumping and make the audience move. We also like to try to mix genres when appropriate. When people ask us what kind of music we play, it really is a difficult question to answer. Some people call us a “jam band” since we play so many different styles, but we don’t really fit in that category, either. We wind up saying “American music” a lot, although we are not an “Americana” band. Is this our attempt at displaying authenticity or is it an honest answer? The truth is that we have been exposed to so many styles of music throughout our lives that it doesn’t feel right to us to just play one. We wind up making up genre names, like “ox-tail funk,” “rock-blues,” and “rhythm and western” because the old labels seem to allow so little room for creativity.
Groce argues that “for musicians who perform original music, participating in the creative process becomes a goal in itself (399). Most of the original musicians Groce interviewed as part of his research “explained that the creative process was more important than the things copy music performers typically value, i.e., making money, exhibiting technical proficiency on instruments or learning current songs on the radio” (399). It’s not that original musicians don’t want to make money, Groce explains, but just that they value creativity over money. I find this explanation too reductive and reinforcing of the money/music duality. But Groce ends his article “Occupational Rhetoric and Ideology: A Comparison of Copy and Original Music Performers,” with a call for more research that determines “whether or not there are other dimensions to musicians’ ideologies, and if so, document their structure and function” (408).
This study has taken up Groce’s call through an application of Berlin’s writing class ideologies. It is hopeful that this study will give musicians a different perspective on how they rhetorically position themselves in the local music business. I believe it’s possible for original musicians to perform the music they want to, with the specific energy they choose to foster, whatever that is, and still consider how it will be received and marketed. The idea of music as organized sound which others then hear sets the condition of possibility for social activity and issues of materiality such as economics, technology, and place. The social-epistemic ideology, however, leaves the musician who fully acknowledges the socially constructed nature of local music production in a bind. If the true musician “self” is a product of Romantic reifications of identity, then why would the professional musician choose to keep trying to produce art?
I have attempted to provide evidence for Berlin’s claims that the “meaning-making activity” located in an expressionist ideology is located “in a transcendent self,” and that in the social-epistemic ideology “the subject is itself a social construct that emerges through the linguistically-circumscribed interaction of the individual, the community, and the material world” (679). Nonetheless, for this study, expressivism and social constructionism failed to account for the wide scope of local professional musician experience. With regards to professional musicians in Northern Colorado, it seems that no specific rhetoric is entirely expressivist or social constructionist, and that speaker position and context problematizes this rhetorical duality.
So do the present results mean that music is nothing but a socially constructed illusion of transcendence? Such an assumption would mean that, while we look to music as a way to transcend our earthly existence, as a route to the Platonic “true essence” of humanity, music is instead nothing but a construction made through the interaction of individuals throughout time. This appears to be too simple of an understanding of music, and a consideration of "the interplay of musical affect and performativity" (Rickert and Hawk) is in order. In A Counter-History of Composition, Hawk argues that the social-epistemic theory of social construction “is a teleological system” (80) which “wants to see the subject in relation to the elements of the communications triangle but can only imagine, ironically, a more mystical notion of this relationship” (112). Hawk is saying that Berlin basically assumes a choice for those he seeks to liberate from repression and “loses the complexity of the local, of the way the body is connected to its social, cultural, historical, and technological environments” (113). Musicians do more than just perform music; they also perform the role of “musician,” a role which involves “a suggestion of a feeling” (Hill and Ploger “On Affect”).
Berlin says that the self is the product of an interaction between the individual, the community, and the world, he is assuming static versions of these elements and fails to account for the way our bodies interact affectively with the world. In her book on Gilles Deleuze, Claire Colebrook refers to affect as pre-personal singularities, existing as a “chaotic and free-roaming” (Colebrook 18) flux, which language cannot organize and which exist prior to the concept of the “self” or “subject.” These singularities have the power to be different from each other, and they do not exist in the ordered world we live in. We must think them into possibility.
Singularities exist in a virtual realm; separate from the actual realm we are used to. The sense of our lives is comprised of the words, images, artifacts, and sounds we use to organize reality, but these elements refer to a virtual sense, which we must look to in order to understand the questions and problems that such elements presuppose (Colebrook 21). We can understand music in this virtual sense as sound, existing in pre-personal singularities, which before formation into “music” exist as different affects, or “sensible experiences in their singularity, liberated from organising systems of representation” (Colebrook 22). An awareness of the virtual realm of musical affect allows musicians to think past Platonic conceptions of music as a transcendent object, where a musician would be “an origin or being that then becomes” (Colebrook 125). For Deleuze, all that exists is becoming. Deleuze was interested in “what is” and not “the search for some truth, justification or foundation beyond, outside or transcendent to what is” (Colebrook 71). There is no “foundation of being,” but instead “becoming as all there is without ground or foundation” (Colebrook 125). But we cannot become as long as we are thinking extensively.
For Deleuze, thinking extensively is when we perceive things within the common sense realm of being. Extension organizes the world into perceptions “all mapped onto a common space, differing only in degree” (Colebrook 38), but Deleuze challenges us to think intensively, which recognizes difference in affect and how affect, as a “sensible experience,” happens to and across our bodies. Affect is not “objectifiable and quantifiable as a thing that we then perceive or of which we are conscious” (Colebrook 39). We might understand everyday hearing as extensive, where we organize sounds into their specific functions, such as the ding of a microwave signaling that our food has finished being heated. In music, however, sound is composed in such a way that disorders our common sense world of experience and allows us to “perceive affects without their standard order and meaning” (Colebrook 39).
What are composed in music are intensities—the ways that affect works on us. In music, this might be a sound that causes us to dance, a vibration that causes us discomfort or a tone from a piano that persuades us to play a certain phrase on the guitar while we are playing music onstage. It might be argued that the dance, discomfort, or phrase is socially constructed, a result of dialogic interaction between individuals which results in common assumptions about which sounds are to be danced to, which are to be avoided as noise, and how to respond musically to certain tones when performing music. But for Deleuze, such a view would assume that music, or language for that matter, represents a shared world of understanding in which “thinking takes the same ‘upright’ form distributed among rational perceivers” (Colebrook 24). When we see how common sense thinking is dictated by this upright thinking, or opinion (the direct linking of affect to the intelligible), we come closer to realizing how intensities produce us as subjects.
Deleuze thinks that we are produced in such a way due to our investments in intensities; the way in which we enjoy and organize around what we sense. It is once these investments are overcoded by applying signifiers to them that we begin to assume that these affects and intensities represent some “pre-existing real” (Colebrook 108). Opinion, in this way, puts an end to thought and produces the concept of man and the social. Music is subject to opinion like any other collection of affect and concept, such as language or cinema, and opinion makes us forget “the chants, rhythms and incantations of primitive cultures” where there is a “single level of freely floating images” (Colebrook 108). We think of music as communication rather than a “creative and intensive event” (Colebrook 109) that produces musical subjects. In this way, musicians themselves can be said to be the effects of investments in sound.
With this in mind, we may see how Colebrook’s reading of Deleuze acts as a response or addendum to Berlin’s conception of ideology. Berlin is operating on “organicist or foundational models, where every becoming is grounded on an origin, end or order” (Colebrook 61). In Berlin’s case, a true understanding of the real musician nature results from “the dialectical interaction of the observer, the discourse community (social group) in which the observer is functioning, and the material conditions of existence” (Berlin 678). This concept sheds light on the ways that musicians are constructed, but only if we agree on discourse as being the foundation of all knowing. Berlin’s concept does not account for the non-rational, non-discursive knowledge which goes into music and its production. In his model, this type of knowledge becomes expressivism. Colebrook says that “Ideology has to assume that there are real interests that are concealed,” such as the “true” essence of the musician who must then work against ideology in order to realize his or her true self. But Deleuze’s philosophy works against not only that true essence, but the concept of the “musician” him/herself.
Deleuze’s philosophy of singularities and affect is not expressivist rhetoric. Expressivism seeks “the discovery of the true self” (Berlin 674), but affect exists without an individual to arrange that affect into images of a “self.” Affect is pre-personal, existing in a virtual realm of possibility, and musicians assemble the affect transmitted through sound into subjectivities. This happens bodily through emotion. The emotions we feel as musicians; joy, freedom, fear, and community, for instance, are “simply consciously, linguistically ‘recognized affect’” (Massumi as quoted in Hawk 190). Deleuze sees art as that which most allows affect back into experience and draws us away from perceived foundations, such as the ones we ascribe to music and its production.
In what Deleuze and his frequent collaborator Guattari call “micropolitics,” “categories of persons, classes, or interests are ‘coded’ from affect” (Colebrook 93). Deleuze shows how “the historical composition” (Colebrook 93) of the term “musician” is a coding of intensities. In this way, we can see how an application of Berlin’s categorizations of ideology and rhetoric to music and musicians relies on foundational, common sense thinking; the kind of knowledge that makes up only part of what we experience as “music.” However, we would be remiss if we simply discarded Berlin’s ideology in favor of an understanding of singularities and affect. Affect is not a total mystery. Although many involved in local music production cannot put a finger on the exact power and possibility of music, they understand fully that music brings people together because it makes them feel a certain way, and where those communities form, commerce takes place. While affect may be the reason that music brings people together, affect is not the main character in history; nor is discourse or ideology.
We may see the main character in history as difference. According to Colebrook, “the only thing that is repeated or returns is difference” (121). We should realize that the theories of Deleuze and Berlin are different tools musicians can add to their arsenal of meaning making. Cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg points to a way that the theories of Berlin and Deleuze may consolidate, arguing that “affect is the missing term in an adequate understanding of ideology, for it offers the possibility of a ‘psychology of belief’ which would explain how and why ideologies are sometimes, and only sometimes, effective” (82). So while not all reality is a product of social construction, and not all art is expressionist, there are benefits in realizing the power of the social epistemic ideology, as well as an awareness of the affective realm.
One thing that lets me know that I don’t own my music is the audience. I’ve learned over time that when the audience does not give energy back to the band, it’s like they are not sharing the workload. Recently I did a gig in Loveland, Colorado with a local blues drummer named Bobby K. We played really focused all night and we sounded good. Although Colorado music crowds are usually very engaged, this small restaurant crowd wasn’t into it, and it was really hard work. Music is energy driven—a musician can manifest that energy in many different ways; through mental concentration, lack of inhibition, technical prowess, eye contact, well crafted songs, alert improvisation, humor…but when the crowd is not giving back its tough. In any case, when the night goes well it feels like everyone in the room is out at sea together and no one is rowing. We’re just floating, being tossed around by the waves, sometimes gently, sometimes violently. There’s an element of danger, yet the activity is basically harmless. This feeling is different than the one I got playing alone in my bedroom as a thirteen year old, trying to match up with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and Robert Johnson, yet it’s similar, too. There is a feeling in the room that everyone shares; a similar feeling to the one we got a long time ago when hearing whatever music it was that got us excited. Once I learned to overcome the assumption that music was just for me, the possibilities opened up and I was able to experience music on a higher and more fulfilling level.
For the sake of themselves and their listeners, musicians should try to understand music as made up of transferrable affect or virtual singularities which participants feel. For a musician, to not tap into the potential that music is capable of is a loss. As cultural communications theorist Robert DeChaine says, “to underplay the significance of the body in our efforts to account for the power of music does a great disservice to our knowledge of ourselves” (79). When musicians assume that we are the owners of the sounds we make, it means that the amount of possibility we can achieve through music is perceivable, which can lead to nihilism. Instead, Deleuze would have us find freedom from such limiting thinking through “affirming the chance of events, not being deluded that we are ‘masters’ or that the world is nothing more than the limited perceptions we have of it” (Colebrook 38).
To realize that we don’t own these sounds does not mean that we should not be paid for the work of music. What it means is that it as “musicians” we are written by sound and the more we attempt take ownership of those sounds the farther away we get from what music can do. As musicians, we don’t make the sounds into music-the sounds make us into “musicians.” Whatever judgments we develop from that point on are the result of common sense thinking which does not recognize music’s virtual realm; the plane of immanence from which music can take several different lines of flight.
When we realize this we can finally let go of our grip on the music, realize that its meaning is not inherent, but made because we need language to discuss what music means. Then, maybe, we can realize that, while the meaning of music is socially constructed, such meaning does not account for all knowledge about music. As political emotion theorist Deborah Gould argues, “affect is in relation to the social and cultural and thus cannot be thought of as some pure outside, but neither is it reducible to such forces” (31). From this perspective musicians may be able to work past the Romantic music/money dichotomy and understand themselves as workers whose jobs it is to be influenced by, recognize, and transfer affect. The job doesn’t necessarily have to be the performance of one specific style of music and it doesn’t have to only consist of taking certain gigs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with playing one style and/or type of gig, but we should be wary of letting such an inclination prevent us from music’s affective possibility. As Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger explain:
Adults who are self involved or are not queued into paying attention to affect may not understand what an infant wants by its expressions and often end up blaming the infant for being irritating. This attitude is not dissimilar to how many classical musicians think about audiences. That is, if concert attendance is declining, they are too quick to blame listeners for their lack of interest in non-affective music making. This attitude is one to avoid like the plague. It accounts for why famous opera houses and many symphony orchestras are in financial insolvency. (Hill and Ploger “On Affect”)
Such an attitude is also detrimental to local performing musicians of all genres. One final nod to what Colebrook tells us about Deleuze and opinion is worthwhile here. Colebrook says that “Opinion, for Deleuze, is the very inertia or failure of thinking. Opinion is laziness directly opposed to the expansiveness of the philosophical concept” (16). It’s easy for local musicians to insist that they have learned everything there is to know about the music they play, audiences, venues, and other musicians, but this is an incomplete understanding of the job of the musician. The work of the musician should not be separated from whatever it was that was felt when the musician heard his or her favorite music for the first time. As rock/rhythm and blues bassist Mac remarks, “music just touches us…you just get so satisfied.” This is why people seek out music; it’s why we put so much work into learning how to play, write, improvise, record, arrange, book gigs, advertise, perform, maintain groups, connect with fans, and ensure that we are economically compensated for that work; so that we can continue to be in a position where we can allow affect to work through us, transforming ourselves and our listeners.
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